Fashion Takes Flight: Our Favorite Designer Airline Uniforms

Mar 6, 2018

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When Delta sneak-previewed spiffy new uniforms by designer and Project Runway judge Zac Posen, it was the first upgrade to the airline’s employee apparel in a decade. To understand needs around look and feel, Posen himself did stints as a flight attendant, gate agent, and Sky Club concierge. Among his changes: A new shade called “Passport Plum,” which blends the brand’s blue and red; sporty, neon-accented clothes for ground crew; and bright-red/navy combos for other staff getups.

Zac Posen’s new uniforms for Delta, set to debut this May, include a new shade called Passport Plum. Photo courtesy of Delta

Posen’s collection is just the latest foray into fashion for flyers; Oleg Cassini designed for TWA in 1965, and Emilio Pucci groovily outfitted Braniff flight attendants the same year. Posen’s collection takes flight on May 29; in the meantime, here are some of the best recent collabs between couturiers and carriers.

For Air France, Christian Lacroix designed chic uniforms that would look at home in a five-star restaurant as well as at 30,000 feet. Photo courtesy of Air France

Air France – Christian Lacroix

You might recognize some of the créateurs who’ve outfitted Air France employees, like Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Jean Patou, Nina Ricci, and Pierre Cardin. Extending its haute couture runway in the sky, the airline tapped French designer Christian Lacroix to update its livery in 2005. With its very Gallic scarves, clean lines, and muted colors, Lacroix’s creations would seem as apropos at a dinner party as they do at 30,000 feet. Flight attendants’ red gloves and a bow-like sash add sleek punctuation to elegant but functional outfits.

Pillbox hats for flight attendants made waves for Canadian upstart Porter Airlines when designer Kimberly Newport-Mimran introduced the carrier’s uniforms in 2006. Photo courtesy of Porter Airlines

Porter Airlines – Kimberly Newport-Mimran, Pink Tartan

The tiniest parts of Porters uniforms made the biggest waves. Smart little pillbox hats for female flight attendants stood out when Toronto designer Kimberly Newport-Mimran of the Pink Tartan label unveiled her designs in 2006. “I took inspiration from a time when traveling was elegant,” the designer said at the time of her classic trench coats and shift dresses for the upstart Canadian carrier. Watching Porter’s nattily attired crew dash through the airport or up the aisle does provide a retro-glam rush.

Happy clothes for happy crew? That’s what clothing brand Moods of Norway claims its uniforms for Norwegian accomplish. Photo courtesy of Norwegian Airlines

Norwegian Air – Moods of Norway

What exactly is Norwegian style? For whimsical brand Moods of Norway, it’s the cheerful attitude in uniforms it created for low-fare carrier Norwegian in 2013. This might be the only carrier with bold plaid blazers for men, “Tea” and “Coffee” woven in script onto shirtsleeves, and in-flight instructions printed on socks. Garment tags read “Happy clothes for happy crew.” We’d love to hear if your Norwegian experiences bear that out, but the clothes are great fun to look at. Moods tanked in 2017 after 15 years, but its uniforms live on.

United – Brooks Brothers, Tracy Reese, Carhartt 

Designs won’t debut until 2020, but United is upping the fashion ante by tapping three American brands instead of a single designer to elevate its uniforms. Business-attire icon Brooks Brothers will create apparel for all male pilots, flight attendants, and customer-service personnel; Tracy Reese, celebrated for dazzlingly colorful womenswear, will design uniforms for female crew and reps that Brooks Brothers will manufacture; and Carhartt, the newly hip workwear brand, will outfit ramp-service, technical operations and catering employees.

Virgin Atlantic’s uniforms boast designer Vivienne Westwood’s cheeky brand of British glam, with body-conscious shapes and bold colors. Photo courtesy of Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic – Vivienne Westwood

In a perfect match between airline and designer, cheeky Virgin Atlantic tapped punk-gone-legit Vivienne Westwood for its striking, fashion-forward livery. Think blood-red trenchcoats with exaggerated lapels and blazers with nipped waists for women, classic-with-a-wink burgundy waistcoats for men. Neckerchiefs and ties sport a hand-drawn “wings” logo.

Paris-based, Melbourne-born designer Martin Grant (fourth from left) created instantly recognizable uniforms for Qantas, including the airline’s first for female pilots. Photo by Duncan Killick.

Qantas – Martin Grant

He may not be a household name stateside, but Paris-based Martin Grant is a huge name among insiders. For its uniform revamp in 2013, Qantas enlisted the Aussie designer, known for bold, graphic prints and simple shapes. Grant used Australian wool for his Qantas creations; men got sharp-looking single-button navy blazers with a flash of red inside the back vent, while women wear tailored jackets with flat-front pants or beautifully cut pencil skirts. Double-breasted trench coats, a Grant signature, come with removable winter linings. On top: Jaunty little Trilby hats accented with Qantas red. Bonus: Grant’s pilot uniforms included designs for women for the first time in Qantas’ history.

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